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Africa's new bloodstained gems: Children dig for tanzanite, coltan in dangerous mines ^ | Sunday, December 2, 2001 | By Anthony C. LoBaido

Posted on 12/02/2001 12:39:01 AM PST by JohnHuang2

While human slavery is a fact of life in African nations like Mauritania and Sudan, Tanzania now is emerging as the latest center for the exploitation of child labor.

Today, young children are forced to work in the country's mine, harvesting the valuable mineral resources of tanzanite, coltan and diamonds. Tanzanite, a semi-precious, purple-blue gemstone unique to Tanzania, was discovered for the first time 24 years ago by the Masai tribe. Its uniqueness and stunning beauty make it as sought-after and as valuable as diamonds. The resulting tanzanite mining rush lured thousands of Tanzanians and refugees from neighboring Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

"Tanzanite … is torn from the volcanic rock of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania by the tiny hands of African children," reports Dutch journalist Adriana Stuijt, a former anti-apartheid activist who maintains an anti-censorship website. Stuijt describes children working under the "most abominable mining conditions of the 21st century, digging away for coltan, the black mud of the Congo so essential for the world's cellphone industry."

The United Nations has condemned the child-slavery practices at the coltan mines and blames the mines for fueling the civil wars plaguing the region.

Reportedly, Amnesty International has also been petitioned to probe the dreadful working conditions and child slavery observed in tanzanite mines located in Arusha, Tanzania.

"American jewelers import tanzanite to the tune of $300 million a year. Ninety-five percent of this is exported illegally from Tanzania via low-paid 'informal' miners. Many are children who are digging inside dangerous, unsafe homemade mineshafts for as little as $2 a month, or even just food handouts," Stuijt told WorldNetDaily.

"Do the American women adorned with these stunning and unique gems even know that most of these were torn out by African children's hands, digging and hacking away at the Tanzanian volcanic rock – often forced to live in deep, unsafe mineshafts where many have already drowned horribly?"

"Until recently 'Tanzanian Rush' miners used mainly picks and shovels to dig out the gems," reports the South African Afrikaans language newspaper Beeld. "Individuals and groups of miners dig life-threatening shafts as deep as 300 meters, usually without any kind of supports or ventilation. ... On April 12, 1998, at least 100 miners drowned in such shafts, which had flooded during a terrible storm. And in 2000, flooding again drowned many."

Beeld also reports prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse are rife; AIDS is a major problem; and there is no healthcare or sanitation.

According to the paper, a trade union representative confirms that thousands of children work in the mines because they can move around so much easier in the narrow shafts.

"Parents encourage their children to work there because there are no schools near the diggings," Martha Bitwale of the Tanzanian women's mineworkers association told Beeld.

There is one exception to Tanzania's cruel trading game: A small proportion of the total tanzanite payload, $18 million worth, now is being mined safely and responsibly using modern safety techniques established by African Gemstones Ltd., or Afgem, a high-tech South African mining company that doesn't employ child labor.

Afgem is a South Africa based company with offices in Johannesburg. The company received its mining concession from the Tanzanian government in mid-1999. Since January 2000, Afgem has mined 4,216 tons of tanzanite ore at its site at Mererani, northeast of Arusha.

Despite having the government's blessing, Afgem encounters stiff opposition, as Beeld reported in August:

"At the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a South African mining company is mining a unique gemstone amidst great animosity from surrounding communities. At first sight, the mining compound looks like a military base in former South West Africa. High security fencing, razor wire, uniformed guards, guard dogs, guard towers. All for very good reasons ...

"It's the old African story: Foreign investments and developments aren't welcomed by everyone – even if the mining company was invited and licensed by the Tanzanian government. Afgem's team was welcomed with open arms in fact by the Tanzanian government – but not by the 40,000-odd local informal miners who are practically tearing the gemstones from the rocky soil with their bare hands."

"Local miners believe we are stealing their daily bread," said a top Afgem official at the site. "They bear great animosity towards the only international group."

The Washington Times reports that the Tanzanian government was unapologetic about child miners slaving at Arusha tanzanite mines, while trying to woo foreign investors gathered in Washington, D.C., in August.

"Tanzanian Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye spared few superlatives … in trying to sell his East African country to an American audience as a haven for foreign investors," reports the Times. Sumaye "cited its low-cost labor, strategic location and a series of 'vigorous economic reforms' undertaken by President Benjamin Mkapa. These include the privatization of state-owned enterprises, relaxed rules on the repatriation of profits and reduced tax burdens. At a luncheon hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa, which seeks to bring together Americans and Africans for business opportunities, Mr. Sumaye boasted about the shift toward free markets and privatization after decades of a failed socialist experiment."

"The Tanzanian government's big problem," reports Beeld, "is that very little money ends up in the national treasury because of the uncontrollable illegal trade. Official statistics show that Tanzania exports tanzanite valued at only $8 million annually, but the USA – the largest importer of tanzanite – imports $300 million annually."

This thriving illegal trade is born on the backs of child slaves. Says Struijt, "If there was ever a crime against humanity, this is it."

TOPICS: Editorial; Front Page News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: tanzanite
Quote of the Day by JoeEveryman
1 posted on 12/02/2001 12:39:02 AM PST by JohnHuang2
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To: JohnHuang2
Tanzanite was NOT discovered 24 years ago. It's been at least 30 . Tiffany was the first to find, use, and promote the gem stone ; which was at first called something with the TIFFANY name in it.

Personally, I don't much care for it, and it isn't promoted very much by Tiffany & Co, Harry Winston, Cartier, Graff, nor any other fine, high end jewler.

2 posted on 12/02/2001 12:46:09 AM PST by nopardons
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To: JohnHuang2
Anthony LoBaido does it again! He does great work... I should not have lost touch with him.... I might e-mail him again soon.
3 posted on 12/02/2001 12:48:58 AM PST by GeronL
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To: nopardons
You have to question the value of a gem so heavily promoted on the Home Shopping Channel and Carribean cruises.
Tanzanite is not hard enough to wear in a ring. It has to be heat treated to change the color from brown to blue.
4 posted on 12/02/2001 5:36:26 AM PST by The Game Hen
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To: The Game Hen; JohnHuang2; nopardons; GeronL
Interesting comments. As a gemologist and political conservative I have a very different view of the matter and think this article is pure anti-capitalist propaganda and kumbaya eyewash. But the gemology part first.

The mineral zoisite has been around forever, but the variety that changes from nondescript brown to a gorgeous violet-blue color with mild heating has been known only since 1967, when Tiffany & Co. named and introduced it. It comes from only one location on earth so far: Tanzania near Mererani (a.k.a. Merelani). Tribesmen near Mt. Kilimanjaro claim to have discovered blue stones after a brush fire but I have seen numerous pieces of rough that were "naturally" blue from heating within the earth or exposure to strong sunlight. (Natural volcanic heat-treating is how sapphires turned blue and many other gems were colored, although modern "alchemists" have learned how to speed up the process to some extent. Very few gems available on today's market are not enhanced by man in some way -- or by woman: emeralds have been oiled to conceal fissures and darken their color at least since the days when Cleopatra mined them. By U.S. law, such enhancements must be disclosed to jewelry buyers and reputable sellers print the information on their invoices. None of these enhancements are considered unethical unless they are dangerous, temporary or mislead customers about the value of the item being purchased.)

Tanzanite is probably too soft for general use as a ringstone although the rings I design protect the stone from hard knocks. It's wonderful for pendants, pins and earrings. I see plenty of diamonds, the hardest known substance, that have been damaged by careless wear, and Tanzanite is no softer than many popular gems like peridot, and is harder than turquoise, opal, coral, etc. I've only seen watery, light blue and small-sized Tanzanites offered on the shopping channels. Large, richly-colored Tanzanites over 2 carats are very pricey, and prices are set by supply and demand. Tanzanite is the 4th biggest-selling colored gem in America.

With that out of the way, this article is just another P.C./Marxist assault on commerce, like the politically-motivated attacks on Nike or Kathy Lee Gifford or so-called "blood diamonds." The presumed buyers are rich, decadent American "capitalist exploiters" who make easy targets for Commie propagandist/"journalists" like Stuijt (who apparently has a history of this sort of stuff in that "wonderful" rapist's paradise, South Africa). I have a collection of articles about Merelani and can't find a single thing to support her contention that Tanzanite is "ripped from the earth by the tiny hands of African children." It's propaganda, folks, and only the gullible will believe it.

Mining conditions are not ideal I grant, and I'd like to see lots of improvements, especially in matters of safety and living conditions for the miners. But hordes of men, mostly Christians, are drawn to the area by the opportunity to make more money, just as hordes of Americans were drawn to the gold fields of California in 1849. I had relatives that actually walked to Sutter's Camp from Illinois! There was no OSHA on that frontier, either. Imagine -- prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse in a mining camp! What a shock!

The support in this article for AFGEM is what I find truly amazing. AFGEM is there to take away the miners' rice bowl, and they don't like it. "Branding" is the hot new buzz word in the gem industry and AFGEM made a special deal with the government to obtain exclusive rights to mine the richest portion of the Tanzanite deposit, making it off-limits to the independent Tanzanian miners. AFGEM plans to do with Tanzanite what Arm & Hammer has done for sodium bicarbonate.

If the independent miners are being so exploited, why did the Federation of Miners Association of Tanzania (FEMATA), the Arusha Regional Miners Association and FEMATA Corporation Ltd. recently bring suit against AFGEM? The same government that made the mining deal with AFGEM ruled that AFGEM did not violate the miners' civil rights by allegedly beating and shooting those who attempted to interfere with their operation.

The following is from a recent article in a gem trade magazine: "The high court judgment stated that the plaintiffs' counsel...failed to establish that there was a constitutional human rights violation and so ordered the case dismissed and the plaintiffs to pay respondents [AFGEM] their costs," explaining that "...the petitioners' claims, such as killing and beatings of small miners alleged to have been done by some AFGEM management personnel, were a criminal matter rather than a constitutional one and would require a different kind of suit."

The plaintiffs also claimed that "...under Tanzania's Mining Act of 1998, former Minister of Energy and Minerals Abdallah Kigoda had acted illegally in granting a special license to AFGEM to mine Block C of the Merelani Mines. Kigoda, who left his post in 2000, has since become the state minister in the President's office of planning and privatization."

Interesting. Has anyone seen similar patterns elsewhere? Klintoon and Indonesian coal spring to mind. Sorry to have gone on so long about this but it isn't a subject that can be boiled down to a paragraph.

5 posted on 12/02/2001 11:04:06 AM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: Bernard Marx
Thank you for the information! I found it fascinating.

I first heard about Tanzanite on a cruise ship. The lecturer said it was chemically a combination of sapphire and amethyst(!) She insisted the mines had been closed or exhausted so Tanzanite is an excellent investment - the value would definitely sky rocket!

I've just started learning how to facet. It's a great hobby but what from what I've read, most gems, from mining to cutting to markup have a less than ideal history.

6 posted on 12/02/2001 1:41:33 PM PST by The Game Hen
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To: The Game Hen
I first heard about Tanzanite on a cruise ship. The lecturer said it was chemically a combination of sapphire and amethyst(!)

Two things: 1) cruise ships are lousy places to buy jewelry -- mark-ups are notoriously high and quality is often outrageously low, based on personal experience, and returning an item for any reason is next to impossible; and 2) the kind of misinformation presented about the sapphire-amethyst combination is frightening to me. Tanzanite has both colors present and perhaps that's what was meant, although there are sapphires that are colored identically to Tanzanite. Fine sapphires are much more expensive however, because of their rarity and superior hardness. Amethyst (crystalline quartz) and sapphire (corundum) are totally separate mineral species and there's no way they can combine chemically to make zoisite.

While gems can appreciate in value from time to time, I recommend against buying them as investments. You have to know enough to get the proper quality/size/shape etc. and be able to buy at wholesale. Liquidating gems is very difficult for the non-professional (and sometimes for professionals!)

You were told the truth about the Tanzanite shortage. It's still in effect as a result of the flooding and because of the AFGEM takeover. I'm seeing a few more good stones on the market these days and prices are a lot higher than prior to the El Nino flood.

It's nice to meet another Freeper faceter! I thought I was probably the only one but who knows...there may be others lurking out there. What kind of machine do you use and how many stones have you cut so far? Let me know if I can be of help.

7 posted on 12/02/2001 2:54:38 PM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: Bernard Marx
Thanks so much for the education. I have seen tanzanite, I don't own any because I have seen such poor quality stones, and frankly, I am a big emerald and diamond gal. It is a lovely color when you get a very high quality stone.
8 posted on 12/02/2001 3:03:00 PM PST by Hillary's Lovely Legs
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To: Bernard Marx
Thank you for the detailed and expert response.

You noted the Nike and Kathy Lee Gifford comparisons. It is appropriate, I believe, to ask what these children and their families would be doing if there were no tanzanite mines to provide them with income.

I suspect the answer is: they would be starving.

While the miner's conditions are doubtless abominable, so is starving.

But, with mining as an opportunity, some few will work their way out of poverty and privation. Better that than relying on the largesse of the American and European bleeding hearts and their institutional charities.

9 posted on 12/02/2001 3:13:02 PM PST by okie01
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To: okie01; Bernard Marx
I'm not qualified to describe their existence in detail. What can you tell us Bernard? But what little I do know is that their lives are miserable. It is not an opportunity to advance. Opportunities of any kind do not exist in these countries.

We had a missionary from the Congo visit our Church this summer. He said if a local finds a rough diamond along the river and tries to sell it to a tourist, the penalty if caught is severe.

10 posted on 12/02/2001 3:35:24 PM PST by The Game Hen
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To: Bernard Marx
Wow, what an education. Thank you. Don't think I'll be getting one of those 2 carat stones from Santa this year...sigh. :~)


11 posted on 12/02/2001 3:41:02 PM PST by spectre
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To: Hillary's Lovely Legs
It is a lovely color when you get a very high quality stone.

Another thing that makes Tanzanite interesting is the optical property of trichroism: it displays three different colors depending on its orientation: blue, violet and an indistinct reddish tone. It is usually cut to display a mixture of blue and violet because that orientation yields the largest stones and cutters sell by the carat(1/5gram). Pure blue stones are spectacular but cost more because of the cutting loss, which is figured into the price.

12 posted on 12/02/2001 5:58:43 PM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: okie01
You noted the Nike and Kathy Lee Gifford comparisons. It is appropriate, I believe, to ask what these children and their families would be doing if there were no tanzanite mines to provide them with income.

We share the same feelings on this point. Lousy working conditions and food on the table beat starving any day of the week in my book. It's the old story of giving a man a fish to feed him for a day, or teaching him how to fish which will feed him for a lifetime. Nike established plants and provided employment for many starving people. When the company moved on to even cheaper labor markets, it left the plants behind, along with the skills taught the local people, so they could enter the market with their own enterprises. It's interesting to me that the Tanzanian miners have learned how to organize for their own betterment and are learning skills that will give them greater future opportunities. The basic problem throughout Africa is government corruption and instability. It prevents foreign capital from making long-term investments: no one wants their property confiscated by corrupt politicians.

13 posted on 12/02/2001 6:08:24 PM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: The Game Hen
Opportunities of any kind do not exist in these countries.

I'm not an expert on this but you might take a look at my post #13. Tanzania has the world's sixth lowest gross domestic product, yet possesses immense gem riches that can't be efficiently mined for internal political/economic reasons. While the socialist government's tight grip on the economy is blamed for the country's poverty, the government has also kept the country's abundant gem supplies in the hands of its own people. This policy keeps foreign investment out (or did prior to the AFGEM deal with South Africa) but I question whether the politicians are interested in the citizens' welfare or their own Swiss bank accounts.

Still, as of now, 99 per cent of the country's gems are mined by small to medium-scale native mining enterprises. Before AFGEM local tanzanite dealers financed between 95 and 98 per cent of Merelani's mines. Depending on how you view these things this can be either good or bad. I think it's good as long as the government doesn't skim off most of the profits earned by the hard-working free-enterprise miners. The do-gooders like the "journalist" quoted in this article and United Nations NGOs are also threats. They're out to destabilize the market for tanzanite and other stones, appealing to liberal guilt to create boycotts. How in the world does that help anyone except the large foreign oufits that are poised to take control from the local people?

The illegal market in gems is virtually inevitable. Valuable items have a way of finding their way into miners' lunch buckets or less mentionable places, to be sold to the highest bidder. It happens everywhere on earth including right here in the U.S.A. Underground gem markets are well established in Africa and are generally run by Muslim traders with connections to the Middle East, India and other areas where gems are bought and sold. It is an ancient trade and one that will not be easily displaced.

14 posted on 12/02/2001 6:50:10 PM PST by Bernard Marx
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To: Bernard Marx
As a woman and a lover of pretty, shiny things, I never knew much about this business. If I thought about it, I visualized mining done by modern, automated equipment and cutting performed by a little old man lovingly faceting in Antwerp. I recently joined our local Gem and Mineral Society. Some of the members have told me some very alarming stories. It's hard to get accurate information because the industry would prefer the consumer think the business is mysterious or romantic.

What's a good source of factual information without the spin or anti-capitalist propaganda? I still eat beef even though I know those poor little cows suffer before they are slaughtered. I'm sure I'll still want a big Emerald for Christmas.{;>

15 posted on 12/02/2001 7:49:41 PM PST by The Game Hen
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